Age is no barrier to running the kitchen of a top London gastro pub, as Max Gosney finds when he meets chefs Andrew Tyrrell and Stephen Williams.
Though barely out of their teens, Stephen Williams and Andrew Tyrrell have run the kitchen of acclaimed Clerkenwell gastro pub the Coach & Horses for more than a year. Implementing their own menu at an age when most chefs are sweeping the floors is a privilege admits Andrew. "We are so lucky to be in charge of a kitchen at 20 and 22 years of age. It's something that we are aware of and very grateful for."
Having met on a catering course at Westminster College, the duo, who share a passion for simple quality cuisine, formed an instant alliance. The bond allowed them to thrive, as fellow students wilted under the strain of an intensive three-year stewardship. "Only 15 of the 130 people who started the course graduated," says Stephen. "If you don't believe in what you're doing then it becomes very hard to give everything towards it." An engaging and passionate figure, Stephen, 22, recounts with vigour the obstacles encountered during training and the escapades while working at mock restaurants and butcheries at college. Andrew smiles at the recollections; he's a calm and contented character whose easy-going approach works in harmony with Stephen's assertive style. "We are good friends," explains Stephen. "It suits us to swap roles in the kitchen and we're confident enough to let each other now when we feel our standards have slipped".
"It gets heated during service but we'll always sit down for a drink and a chat afterwards." The duo joined the Coach & Horses at different points in their careers. Andrew was recruited drect from college in May 203 after work placements in several London restaurants. Giles Webster, who had just signed a long lease at the pub with Punch Taverns, approached the youngster upon the recommendation of a former chef. Stephen joined a year later from the kitchens of the Square restaurant at Bruton Street, Mayfair. The pair share responsibility for the kitchen as co-chefs and under their tenure the pub was awarded Best Gastro Pub in Time Out magazine's Eating & Drinking Awards 2004.
Moving from a restaurant to a pub was a liberating experience say the chefs. "Unlike a restaurant, the menu is evolving each week to accommodate fresh produce," says Andrew. "Our meat is supplied direct from the farm and I am in constant discussion with our suppliers. The pragmatic approach gives the Coach & Horses a distinctive appeal Stephen believes. "At a pub you are free from the restraints of restaurant food. We are not part of a machine and can put a new dish on when we want to," he says. The chefs have channelled their creative talents towards a British-themed menu with some added European influence.
Dishes including grilled ox tongue with lentil, beetroot and watercress salad (£10.50) and cod with Greek potatoes and green beans (£12.50) represent a menu committed to simplicity according to Stephen. "We want to offer big flavours. You don't need to overprepare produce," he stresses, pointing out that a vegetable can taste wonderful simply because it has been dug fresh from the ground. The Coach & Horses bar menu provides a further opportunity for experimentation says Andrew. "I made pork pies last week which I've never done before. They were incredibly popular and show what can be done to traditional dishes when made with top-quality ingredients." The snack menu also includes British dishes such as Scotch eggs (£3.50) and half pint of prawns (£3.75). "We do love English cuisine," explains Andrew. "I think of the pub as somewhere you can enjoy something as simple as a sausage roll and a pint."
Although keen to embrace new ideas, the chefs dismiss being depicted as food revolutionaries. "Nothing is new and you cannot re-invent the wheel," says Stephen. "I don't expect a dramatic change in the way people dine out. Customers will go to places that offer great food." Delivering customer satisfaction is key to both Andrew and Stephen's aims though the two are amused by the reaction their cooking can generate from the public. "People who don't cook often think we have strange mystical powers. But to us it is intuition and not magic which determines pairing one flavour with another." On rare occasions, the pair escape the kitchen to attend a gig or festival. Music, like cooking, is a passion of both chefs with the kitchen stereo providing stimulation during a busy service. Both men admit to fears that time will wither their passion for the job.
But for now they remain totally enamoured with completing their education at the Coach & Horses. Stephen says: "I sit on the tube after a shift aching, exhausted and fully aware that I have to do it all again in six hours. But I'll be back in the morning because I love what I do."
Name: Andrew Tyrrell Age: 20 Experience: Trained at Westminster College from 1999 to 2002. After several work placements in London restaurants, was recruited as head chef at the Coach & Horses in May 2003, having been recommended to lessee Giles Webster How it began: "My nan had a big country garden and grew her own vegetables. I was immersed in great food from an early age." The future: "I'd like to try cooking abroad."
Name: Stephen Williams Age: 22 Experience: After completing his A-Levels, Stephen enrolled at Westminster on the same catering course as Andrew. Following graduation he worked at the Square restaurant at Bruton Street, Mayfair, then rejoined his friend as co-chef at the Coach & Horses in July 2004. Where it began: "I remember cooking chicken and pasta at eight years of age. I always wanted to become a chef." The future: "I would like to travel but I am happy in London for the moment as it has such a diverse food culture."
The Coach & Horses fact file
Menu philosophy: "To give the customers a memorable time. We want to make their dining experience as enjoyable as possible. To achieve this, we try to offer the freshest possible ingredients." Covers: 45 to 55 Number of covers per week: 300 Average customer spend: £15 Wet:dry split: 30:70 Draught beers: Timothy Taylor Landlord, Fuller's London Pride, Adnams Broadside. Gross profit per dish: 70%
In the hot seat
What's your favourite piece of equipment?
Andrew: "A thermo blitzer. It's a high-powered liquidiser which can run at several different speeds."
Do you prefer cooking with wine or beer?
Andrew: "We'll drink them both!"Stephen: "I think I prefer to cook with wine but drink beer."
What is the worst injury you have suffered in the kitchen?
Andrew: "I offered to cook a slap-up feast for my family. But whilst I was preparing some parsley I sliced off the top of my thumb and had to spend the evening in casualty." Stephen: "On a couple of occasions I've almost taken the top of my fingers off."
Do you have problems finding staff?
Stephen: "We have a good team in the kitchen. I think we are wary of hiring people who will demand too much influence in the kitchen."
How important is winning awards?
Stephen: "It's nice to receive acclaim for what we are doing but at the end of the day it's customer satisfaction we aim for. The award carries greater significance if it's judged by a fellow chef."
Giles Webster became landlord at the Coach & Horses in May 2003 after signing a lease with Punch Taverns. The former orthopaedic specialist who ran a